Continuing on our little gastronomical tour of old Hollywood, we arrive at none other than La Grande Dame of legendary eateries: The Cocoanut Grove. Betty Goodwin states in her book Hollywood du Jour:
“The Cocoanut Grove epitomized the symbiotic relationship restaurants enjoyed with the picture colony—each enhanced the other’s reputation and basked in each other’s glow.
The fancy dress Cocoanut Grove emerged on Wilshire Blvd in an auspicious time. In the twenties, Hollywood stars were beginning to define glamour for the world, and press agents were eager to help out. The Cocoanut Grove, which looked as grand as any Ziegfield stage (indeed, its key components were taken from a Valentino movie set), provided the ideal backdrop for a photo op … In the late thirties and forties, live radio broadcasts of big band music of Freddy Martin (Mr. Cocoanut Grove) and bocalist Merv Griffin, Guy Lombardo, Phil Harris, Ozzie Nelson and Rudie Vallee spread thee restaurant’s fame from coast to coast. It was also the site of the Academy Awards presentation banquets from 1930 to 1936.”
There is a fantastic book out there (although pricey) called Are the Stars Out Tonight, which provides a terrific visual history of the genesis of the Ambassador Hotel’s famous nightclub. From the “Hollywood Nights” of the 1920s where screen icons would religiously gather each Tuesday night to its popular Charleston contests (Joan Crawford was a regular winner), to its Oscar banquets and birthday parties and all manner of world-class entertainments, the book is definitely worth searching out if you want to really get a feel of what the Grove was truly like.
There are also some terrific recordings available from legendary Cocoanut Grove bandleaders Abe Lyman and Gus Arnheim if you want to hear the sort of music that entertained all those starlit dancers.
And if you’d like a taste of what they dined on, here are some Cocoanut Grove recipes for you to try out. (I’ll have to take your word on the oysters as I don’t eat fish myself … but the desert is gorgeous!)
California Oysters St. James
18 California Oysters
St. James Butter (recipe below)
Open the oysters on the half shell. Set them in a baking dish, covering each completely with St James Butter. Sprinkle with Parmesean cheese. Bake until browned and serve very hot. Serves 3.
St James Butter
1 clove minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon shallots
pinch of parsley
1 drop Tabasco sauce
½ green pepper, diced
¼ pound salted butter at room temperature.
Combine garlic, chives, shallots, paprika, parsley, Tabasco and pepper. Blend into softened butter.
California Figs Romanoff
1 dozen ripe figs, cut in quarters
curacao, to taste
1 quart vanilla ice cream, very soft
1 pint whipped cream
Place figs in a serving bowl. Add a slight flavoring of curacao to taste. In another bowl, thoroughly mix vanilla ice cream with well-sweetened whipped cream. Pour over figs. Sprinkle with nutmeg and refrigerate. Serve very cold. Serves 6. (Strawberries can be substituted in lieu of nutmeg.)
Cocoanut Grove Cocktail
2 ounces dry gin
½ ounce maraschino liquer
dash lime juice
Shake ingredients into cracked ice, strain and serve.
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